We Are Losing The Battle Against Mosquitoes
A few days ago I wrote about recent rains in Florida and how all of the standing water means to be on the lookout for swarms of mosquitoes…well those pesky blood suckers are swarming now. Tropical storm Debby left the area on June 26, 2012 after dropping 11.35″ of rain on our yard (other areas received substantially more rain). Just a few weeks earlier, Tropical Storm Beryl brought over 13″ of rain to our yard. Needless to say, our yard is saturated. We live on the St Johns River and there is still a lot of standing water around (pictures below). Sunday morning I went out to mow the lawn and noticed a terrible infestation of mosquitoes. But I needed to mow because keeping the grass low helps to dry out the yard.
Living on the river, I do not like to use insecticides for mosquito control. The poisons will eventually run off into the river causing more harm than good. In addition, we have critters around the yard – rabbits, raccoons, opossum, squirrel, beneficial snakes, frogs, lizards, birds, among others, and they all drink from the puddles of rain water. Our three cats drink from those puddles as well. It is just not a good idea to spray harmful insecticides around our yard. For personal protection, I use an insect repellent containing DEET for mosquitoes. Nevertheless, I still was bitten by many mosquitoes while mowing Sunday morning and I thought “Oh, no…DEET resistant mosquitoes!” And mosquitoes are becoming resistant to insecticides. Because of this, we are witnessing a rise in mosquito borne illness around the world including West Nile Virus here in the United States. It is alarming.
Sunday morning a CBS News item came across my Twitter feed that got my attention called Waging a losing war against mosquitoes by Tracy Smith. Smith interviews Leslie Vosshall, who runs Rockefeller University’s Laboratory of Neurogenetics and Behavior in New York City. She describes how, in the Northeastern US, there was a very mild winter which translates to more mosquitoes during the summer months, and more mosquito borne disease. Vosshall is particularly interested in how mosquitoes have acquired a taste for human blood over the blood of others.
“What’s interesting is that the really dangerous disease-causing mosquitoes have acquired a taste for humans,” she said. “So Anopheles gambiae, which spread malaria, the principle vector of malaria, prefers humans over all other animals.”
Besides anopheles, some other mosquitoes high on the human misery list are the dengue fever carrier Aedes aegypti, that, in this country, is found mostly in the Southeast; and Culex pipiens, a carrier of West Nile virus, that can be found coast to coast. They, too, have a taste for us . . . and some of us are mosquito magnets.
Smith tells the heartbreaking story of Kimberly King, who lost her daughter to the mosquito borne Eastern Equine Encephalitis, or EEE:
“We could have been swimming, we could have been hiking in the woods, we could have been fishing,” said King. “We could have been sitting on the back porch. We could have been driving in the car.”
The girl went to her mother saying she didn’t feel well: “She seemed to have flu-like symptoms,” said King. “And then within 24 hours of her first symptom, she was seizing.”
After a week in intensive care it was clear that the little girl would not recover.
“We had to make the decision to take her off the life support,” said King. “And we took her off the life support, she was in my arms. I was holding her as she died.
“They took her off all of her machines and her hoses in my arms, and they allowed me to help wash her up before they sent her down to the morgue.”
Kimberly King buried her daughter on the day she would’ve started kindergarten. She’s become a full-time advocate for mosquito repellant and control, as a commissioner at the Plymouth County Mosquito Control Project.
In Florida where the insect thrives, the executive director of Lee County Mosquito Control District, Shelley Redovan, has mosquito spraying aircraft to fight the pest, it’s a constant battle:
“Ideally it would be nice if mosquitoes stayed where they hatch off, but coastal mosquitoes in particular are very strong fliers,” said Redovan. “When they hatch there, they can easily fly 25 miles a day.”
So the agency covers a wide area. To those who worry about environmental impact, Redovan said the spray is formulated to be toxic only to mosquitoes, and its effect: only temporary.
After every high tide and rainfall, and after every spray run, an agent checks ponds and puddles to see how many mosquito larvae have started life anew.
But with swarms able to regenerate in a matter of weeks, and with an average of two new mosquito transmitted diseases found here every year, the threat of the next epidemic is never far over the horizon.
So who’s winning the war against mosquitoes? According to Vosshall:
“We haven’t been successful so far, right? In the 1950s, we came up with insecticides that knocked the populations down a lot. But then the problem is, you’ll always have a few mosquitoes that developed resistance.”
”It’s an arms race,” said Vosshall. “We have to constantly come up with new insecticides to try to knock down the populations.”
“Who’s ahead? Asked Smith.
“Mosquitoes are ahead, unfortunately,” Vosshall replied. “Mosquitoes are winning.”
Insecticides that worked decades ago no longer work now and this should concern everyone. As new insecticides need to be developed on a continuing basis, many questions arise: What is happening to the environment as a result? What about wildlife? How is a continual exposure of different insecticides affecting humans? What is more harmful – the insect or the insecticide?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was created in 1946 to fight malaria. Malaria has bee nearly wiped out in the United States. But according to Natural News, a malaria “superbug” mosquito has emerged in some parts of the world and it has become resistant to insecticides.
Insecticide-laced mosquito nets, aerial sprayings, and other chemical-based intervention methods have literally spawned an entirely new breed of superbug mosquitoes that no longer respond to these so-called solutions.
With global trade increasing, there is little doubt that these malaria “superbug” mosquitoes will one day make it to the shores of America.
According to the CDC, there were 712 total cases of West Nile Virus reported in the United States last year resulting in 43 deaths. Most occurred in California, and Florida saw 24 known cases resulting in 2 known deaths.
The CDC has a map showing where West Nile Virus has been detected so far in 2012. It would probably be a good idea to keep checking this map throughout the season to see where the disease is occurring. The CDC is also keeping a table listing reported West Nile Virus cases for 2012.
With all of the standing water in Florida from recent storms, and following a very mild winter, increased vigilance and protection from mosquitoes is warranted. But don’t overdo the insecticides, always follow label instructions, and call your local mosquito control office if your situation is severe. For me, there is not much I can do except protect myself while outdoors and hope for some freezing weather next winter. According to most experts, the worst is yet to come.
By Jim Weeks
Sources and related information:
CBS News: Waging A Losing War Against Mosquitoes